One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

TOMS: I Corinthians 6

For an introduction to this series, click here.

July 30, 2007

This chapter begins by addressing another serious problem in the church: fighting and arguing to the point of dragging each other into court: 
"When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud— even your own brothers!" (6:1-8)

This is a very serious matter. It is bad enough that people in the church are fighting with each other to the point of needing to go to court. What makes it worse is the fact that they were taking each other to court in the corrupt and heathen court system. I think the most important quote from this passage is "Why not suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?" Jesus  was wronged by practically everyone in His life at some point.  This is an important thing to consider in our lawsuit-happy society. If Christians would take the lead and not sue at the drop of a hat, not even lost people, our society and our court system would be a lot better off. Certainly it is an important principle not to take a brother in the Lord (especially in the same congregation) to the secular court. But more than that, we need to learn to get along with everyone and to overlook the faults of others.

Another major fault of the Corinthians was that they viewed practically everything as a matter of personal choice. Paul confronts this error, saying there are some things that are non-negotiable: 
"'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be enslaved by anything. 'Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food'— and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, 'The two will become one flesh.' But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." (6:12-20, ESV)

"All things are lawful for me" must have been a favorite quote of the Corinthian church. Paul is telling the believers that yes, there are such things that are matters of personal choice. Whatever kind of food you want to eat is your personal choice. Christians are not under the Jewish dietary laws: there are no foods that are improper to eat. But personal choice does not extend to sexual immorality. God's plan always was and still is for sex to be only a part of a monogamous married relationship. But apparently some of the more "broad-minded" members of the church were saying that it was OK to engage in sex with others, particularly prostitutes. Now in our society we consider prostitution to be a terrible and taboo thing, and of course that is as it should be, but in the 1st century Roman world prostitution was common. Lots of pagan religions had religious prostitutes in the temples, and apparently a lot of Roman people thought it was OK. I guess they figured as long as they were committed to one, it didn't matter how many others they fooled around with.

Paul's condemnation of this sin could not be more vehement. In large part thanks to this passage, it is hard to imagine a Christian who thinks sexual immorality is not a problem. Not that people don't do it, but the scripture has taken root to the point that they know it is wrong. Before you get too hard on these Corinthians, remember that they were still trying to figure out what it meant to be Christian. They did not have any of the New Testament yet, as far as we know, and they were mostly just conforming to the norms of their own society. Even though our society is trying to throw off Christianity as fast as it can, we can still be thankful for the remaining effects of Christianity on our society and way of thinking.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

TOMS: I Corinthians 5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

July 28, 2007

I mentioned that the Corinthian church had a lot of serious problems, and in this chapter Paul confronts the most serious problem: severe immorality in the church: 
"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord." (5:1-5)

The greatest sin, according to Paul, was not this man's sin; it was the fact that the church tolerated it. This passage is one of the few passages dealing with church discipline in the epistles. This is something that 999 out of 1,000 churches, by my unscientific estimation, misunderstand and misapply. The vast majority of churches may have a provision for church discipline in their constitution, but they have never and will never actually practice it. Most churches just figure this kind of thing takes care of itself: those who are living in sin will eventually leave anyway. Of course, a few churches use church discipline indiscriminately or with vindictiveness, but that is not the right way either.

The purpose of church discipline is to bring the sinning brother back into fellowship and to ensure the purity of the church. This is an important point. The point of discipline is not to permanently kick the brother out. If he is a believer, the Lord can use the fact that his fellow believers in the church are confronting his sin to deal with him. It's hard to be comfortable in your sin when many of your friends in the church are trying to help you and are confronting you in a loving but firm way. If the church ignores your sin or is personally spiteful, it's easier to feel justified in your sin.

"Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." (5:6-7)

This is where the purity of the church comes in. There is an attitude that develops when people are tolerant of blatant, open sin, whether it be in the church or anywhere else. And that attitude is a great danger. The church needs to be ever vigilant in its efforts to ensure its purity and its commitment to carrying forth the work of the Lord Jesus.

Paul continues his discourse on the need for church discipline: "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler— not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?" (5:9-12, ESV)

This is very interesting. God does not expect us to judge the outside world, but he does expect us to judge those in the church. Too many times we do the exact opposite. Thousands of Christians all over the country are trying to "reclaim America for God" by trying to force morality on our lost society through legislation, while at the same time we overlook the sins of those in our midst, because they are "one of us." Now certainly we need to do our part when it comes to politics and citizenship, but it is more important to make sure our churches are what they ought to be. And that is a lot easier than trying to get some minor political victory. And it will do more good, in the long term. Our job is to save the lost, not to make this world a nicer place to go to hell from.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

TOMS: I Corinthians 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

July 27, 2007

This is a very personal chapter for Paul. It is actually one of the hardest chapters to interpret that I have run across in the epistles. I guess many of the Corinthian believers were putting down Paul and criticizing his ministry, since they were so caught up in following leaders. I guess those who followed Apollos specifically tried to argue that Apollos was better than Paul: "Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" (4:5-7)

We did not do God any favors when we got saved. The gift of salvation is an amazing free gift, and we did nothing to earn it. God did not save us because He needed us. He saved us because He loved us. These Corinthians were apparently proud of the fact that they were better than some of the other believers in their own church. Now don't look down on these folks too much, because that is an easy trap to fall into.

At times Paul is very sarcastic, and this next passage is a prime example of that: "Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children." (4:8-14)

What a scathing rebuke! Paul is saying that to listen to the Corinthians, they must be such better Christians that Paul is. Just look at how God is blessing! They have peace, they have lots of money, they have a very successful church. Meanwhile Paul is stuck out there and he is the laughingstock of the world. God is obviously punishing Paul because look at how badly things are going for him! Paul says these people need to wake up. I think we rarely recognize God's blessings for what they are. We look at somebody with a great job and a nice family and say God is really blessing them. And we look at a church with amazing facilities and a huge roll of members and say God is doing great things at that church. But God rarely brings a lot of things that we consider good things in our lives. Of course God always rewards service to Him, but most of those rewards come in the life that is to come. Nearly everyone in the Bible who was a genuine servant of God suffered most of their earthly lives. God's definition of a blessing and ours are often very different.

Monday, July 27, 2015

TOMS: I Corinthians 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

July 26, 2007

Paul opens this chapter with a stinging condemnation of the Corinthian believers: "But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, 'I follow Paul,' and another, 'I follow Apollos,' are you not being merely human?" (3:1-4)

If you just read that in context, I cannot understand how you can come to the conclusion that carnality is a natural stage of the Christian life, but that is what I have heard preached practically all my life. Paul is very clear that the Corinthians' carnality is not normal. Now certainly there is a maturity level that comes with more experience in living the Christian life, but to say that some people are just going to be carnal and there is nothing we can do about it but try to help them grow is not helping them at all. It is just an excuse for their sin.

Anyway, apparently these divisions in the Corinthian church were very serious. The church at Corinth had a lot of problems, apparently more than any other church that ever received an epistle. I have never attended one, but I cannot imagine the mindset that some people have when they choose the name "Corinth Baptist Church" or some other denomination and the name Corinth. Why would you name your church after one that was so spiritually backward?

Paul transitions from his discussion about how we are all working toward the increase of God's kingdom to a warning about the coming judgment: "For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." (3:9-15)

This is a solemn warning. The judgment that we will receive as believers is not a judgment for sin, that has already been taken care of. But there is a positive judgment of what we have done. If we have served the Lord, we will have rewards added. If we do not, we will still be in heaven, but that will be it. I would also assume that the rewards will include not only the crowns that are mentioned in several places in the New Testament but also placements in Christ's millennial and eternal kingdoms. I think that is implied in Scripture, even if it is not specifically stated that way.

Paul ends the chapter with another statement about worldly wisdom and Godly wisdom: "Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, 'He catches the wise in their craftiness,' and again, 'The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.'" (3:18-20, ESV)

Apparently this was one of the main problems of the Corinthian believers. I guess they thought they had a lot of wisdom, and they saw themselves as being better than a lot of the other churches. But Paul brings this up again and again. Natural human wisdom is admirable, but it is not an end in itself. We need to seek the Lord's wisdom in order to be truly wise.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

TOMS: I Corinthians 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

July 25, 2007

This is kind of a short chapter, which is really good because I kind of overslept this morning.

The first section of the chapter continues the thought of the previous chapter about God choosing the foolish things of the world to overcome the wisdom of the world: "And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory." (2:1-7)

Even Paul had his weaknesses. There is another passage, I think it is II Corinthians, where Paul says that his reputation is that he is powerful when he writes and he is weak when he speaks. I guess in that very isolated and simple way I am somewhat like Paul, although don't quote me on that (I hear that a lot). But Paul is not so much concerned about that. He is more concerned about the Gospel of Christ being proclaimed. I think too often we are not like Paul. We are attracted to preachers who have great charisma, an amazing vocabulary, and who seem to have a lot on the ball. These human gifts are fine, but if the preacher is not using them to proclaim the Gospel, he is wasting his time and our time.

Now I want to point out something that Paul says about the "hidden wisdom of God." John has a lot more to say about this in his epistles, but Paul also goes on to explain what he means by that phrase: "But, as it is written, 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him' — these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God." (2:9-10) God does not keep secrets from those He loves. The mystery of God is not a mystery to those of us who are His children. It may be and is a mystery to the world, but that is as far as it goes. Don't trust anyone who claims to have found some deep dark secret of God or who twists Scripture to say something you have never thought it meant before. There are all kinds of teachers who go around holding seminars and they sell people on some nonsense they concocted based on a few Scriptures twisted out of context, and lots of good people fall for them. Don't be one of those.

Finally, we have some of the most important teaching on the depravity of mankind: "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.  'For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ." (2:14-16, ESV)

Man in his natural, lost state cannot correctly understand the Bible. He will get bogged down in useless details, he will go off on tangents, he will miss the big picture. Most of the doctrinal error down through the centuries has been originated not by saved people who were misguided, but by lost people, no matter how sincere they may have been, who tried on their own to interpret the Scripture. That does not mean they may not have led believers astray, but I think if you look back, in many cases the error was first introduced by professed believers, not by well-grounded pastors or teachers. Unless the Holy Spirit enlightens the mind of a lost person, they will never be saved and they will never correctly understand the Scriptures. 

Of course no one knows everything immediately: it takes a lifetime, and even then we don't understand everything. That fact is why it is important that leaders in the church be spiritually mature. Lots of churches I have been a part of see some young guy who is really zealous for the Lord, and they let him take a leadership position in the church. They are just trying to encourage him, but I have seen lots of cases in which that young person gets in over his head and is soon no longer even in church or is off in serious doctrinal error. It would be better to keep the zealous person out of the spotlight and teach him the whole counsel of God. How many great preachers would we have today if some wise and seasoned believers had been mentors to a young flash in the pan and taught them like Aquila and Priscilla taught Apollos? Only God knows, but I hate to think about it. The church is meant to take the long-term approach, to prepare all of its people for a lifetime of service to God. Too many churches are content to exploit someone willing to work for a little bit, and both the person and the church are worse off in the long run.

Friday, July 24, 2015

TOMS: I Corinthians 1

For an introduction to this series, click here.

July 24, 2007

Paul starts this book like most of his epistles, with a greeting and a prayer. The opening verse is interesting: "Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes," (1:1) If you were reading this blog when we were in Acts I discussed the fact that Sosthenes was the leader of the Jewish synagogue at Corinth when Paul was there, and Sosthenes tried to have Paul arrested or thrown out of town. But now here he is ministering with Paul wherever he was when he wrote this letter. That's a neat story.

After his opening, Paul gives the Corinthian believers a scathing condemnation of divisions in the church: I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, 'I follow Paul,' or 'I follow Apollos,' or 'I follow Cephas,' or 'I follow Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1:10-13)

Sadly, this malady afflicts the church today. Now clearly we are supposed to separate from those who do not preach the Gospel. But lots of people separate over much more trivial things. They separate because over personalities just like the Corinthian church did, they separate over Bible translations, music, personal problems and, worst of all, they separate from those who won't separate, so-called secondary separation. Jesus said that the world will know that we are His disciples because of our love for one another. We're all going to have to live together forever in heaven, we should be able to at least get along down here.

The last half of this chapter is so good, I couldn't figure out a way to divide it, so here comes a long quote: "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.' Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'" (1:18-31, ESV)

This passage is pretty self-explanatory, but let's look at it for a second. God's priorities are not our priorities. We place priorities on wisdom, charm, charisma and other character traits we wish we had. I have heard people say, "If so and so would only get saved, think about what God could do with them." Well none of us gives God anything. He doesn't need our puny gifts that He gave us anyway. The Lord uses the small and unassuming people of the world to do His greatest work. He likes to display His power through people with whom it is obvious that He is the one doing the work. 

Now I have heard some people use this passage as a justification for their uncultured and ill-mannered ways. This is not what Paul is saying here at all. There is no excuse for not trying to improve yourself all the time. The Lord didn't save us to be jerks, he saved us to perform His will and to bring glory to Himself.

The Lord can use people who are gifted, but He cannot use people who are proud of their gifts. He uses people who realize that everything they have or seem to have comes from God, and they humbly submit to His will and serve Him out of a heart of gratitude.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

TOMS: Romans 16

For an introduction to this series, click here.

July 23, 2007

Thank you for all your prayers and nice comments this week as my grandma passed away. It has been a tough week but the Lord gives grace. I can tell many of you were praying for me.

There is an interesting story about this chapter. There are many manuscripts - old, hand-written copies (remember that the printing press was not developed in Europe until the 1400s, so hand-copying was the only way to have a book for millennia) - that do not include this chapter. This chapter is almost entirely greetings of different people, and I guess a lot of people did not care to include it. They figured they had the good parts written down, so they didn't need this last part. 

But all scripture is profitable, even the parts that seem to be boring. There is one clue in this chapter to a mystery we find in the Gospel of Mark. Mark mentions this very weird detail, among many weird details in his book: "And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross." (Mark 15:21) In the end of Romans we find a possible answer to this: "Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well." (16:13) Those who study these things say that Mark probably wrote his Gospel for the church at Rome. Rufus must have been a leader in the church there, and his father happened to be in Jerusalem at the time Jesus was crucified and carried His cross. Rufus may have also been there. If you have ever heard Ray Boltz's song "Watch the Lamb," that song is kind of based on this story.

Paul does have a little bit of theological wisdom to dispense in this chapter, and it is quite revealing: "I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil." (16:17-19)

I once heard a sermon on that last passage that said we are supposed to be "simple concerning evil." His point was that it is OK not to know what was going on in the world, because we are supposed to be "simple concerning evil" (which is the way the King James translates that last phrase). 

If you look at the verse in context, it does not say that we are supposed to be innocent of the evil in the outside world. We are supposed to be innocent from the hateful strife and bad doctrine that comes from those in the church. Now we should not go out of our way, of course, to keep up with the latest fads and know all the latest songs and whatever. But if you’re interested in those things, or say if you are like me and have to write about stuff you don’t always agree with or consider to be right, it’s not a sin. A person who is busy serving the Lord will recognize the evil ideas and mindset of the world. The world always has been and always will be opposed to God and His Church.

But the more insidious evil are those bad influences in the church. This is the evil Paul is warning us about - the evil that creeps in to the church. Satan is surely at work all the time to disrupt the work of God. And yes, he can and does use people in the church, even people who are genuine believers, to cripple a congregation. This is what I am always afraid of being, because I know I like to take on taboos, and I enjoy being an iconoclast. I try to do it in a reverent way and not be critical of individuals, but sometimes I’m sure I take it too far. Please let me know if you think I am. Paul's warning here is quite severe: avoid them, because they are not serving the Lord Jesus, but are deceiving others in the church.

Finally, there is one verse I have always thought was funny: "I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord." (16:22, ESV) Why wouldn't you sign this letter? I know I would, if I had copied out some of the magnificent doctrine that is found in this book. It's kind of like graffitti in the Bible: "Tertius was here." I think that's cool.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

TOMS: Romans 15

For an introduction to this series, click here.

July 18, 2007

This chapter is kind of a wrap-up of some more important things Paul wanted to say. In the first part of the chapter he appeals to the example of Jesus Christ: "We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, 'The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.'" (15:1-3) 

This is obviously an important concept by itself, but when you consider the subject matter of Chapter 14, this becomes even more significant. That Paul would cite Jesus as an example of bearing with the weaknesses of others is interesting, because when you read the Gospels it doesn't appear that Jesus took any consideration at all for the feelings of others, particularly those in authority. I hadn't really realized it before, but I guess this is kind of a confirmation of what I said yesterday. Jesus had no patience whatsoever with the pompous Pharisees, but He had infinite patience with those who did not take on airs, like when He sent Peter out to catch a fish with money in its mouth so that "We would not offend" the tax collector.

Paul says that when we look at the example of Christ and the Old Testament saints, we will learn to live with each other: "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (15:4-6) There is a lot in the Scriptures about unity, and nothing kills unity like squabbles over insignificant things.

Paul finishes this chapter with a personal message: "And thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, 'Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.' This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen." (15:20-33, ESV)

Monday, July 20, 2015

TOMS: Romans 14

For an introduction to this series, click here.

July 17, 2007

Now this is a very practical chapter. It has to do with standards. No two people think alike or have the same background, so no two people will agree 100 percent on everything. Paul gives us a lot of practical advice to help us get along with our fellow believers: “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself." (14:1-7)

Everybody always figures that they are doing things the right way. If that were always true then those who do things differently must be in sin. That is the attitude Paul is trying to combat here. I could get real specific here and blast certain people for their narrow-minded views on certain things, but I think that would be counter-productive. We all know people we think have nutty views on some sort of issue that is not really all that important. The best thing to do, and the advice Paul gives us here, is to get along with our brothers and sisters and disagree without being disagreeable.

Eating meat offered to idols and observing days, particularly the Sabbath but also other days of the month and year, were the flashpoint issues in Paul's day. Today of course, some of the issues we fight over unnecessarily include music/worship styles, Bible translations and worldly influences- what kind of movies/ TV shows/ music/ magazines/ books are OK to take in and what kind are not. Now of course there are general Biblical principles that need to guide our choices in these matters, but there are no clear lines in the Bible on what kind of music we should sing in church, for example. Or take the issues of hair and dress, which thankfully most Christians have stopped fighting tooth and nail about: we are supposed to dress modestly, and men are supposed to have short hair and women are supposed to have long hair. But everyone's definition of modesty, short and long is different.

Now after the general principle, Paul gets more specific: "Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." (14:13-23, ESV)

Read very carefully what Paul says here. He is persuaded that there is nothing unclean of itself (even wine, but that is for another time), but he chooses to avoid exercising his liberty if it will cause a brother to be tempted to sin by violating his conscience. Paul explains very clearly at the end of this chapter the reason why we need to consider the weaker brother: the weaker brother has not been convinced that all things are clean, and if we in our liberty convince him to do something he believes is wrong, he is violating his conscience and we cause him to sin. 

Now I may be wrong, but I think the definition of a weaker brother is very clear here. A weaker brother is one who is new or immature in his faith, and consideration needs to be taken to help him. A weaker brother, by definition, is not a leader in the church or a mature believer in general. I have been in at least one situation where a Christian supposedly more mature than I, and certainly one I would not think would be tempted to violate their conscience by participating in an activity with me, has told me I shouldn't do something because it offends them, citing this portion of scripture. Well I'm sorry but I don't think a pastor or church leader qualifies as a weaker brother. They were just trying to impose their beliefs upon me, doing the very thing Paul tells us not to do in the beginning of the chapter. 

So it cuts both ways. If God intended for us to have the exact same opinions and practices on every issue, He would have given us more clarity in the Bible. It would make the Bible much longer. Since God did not do this, we should practice charity whenever possible when confronting troublesome issues between brothers.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

TOMS: Romans 12

For an introduction to this series, click here.

July 15, 2007

Well this is a little later than usual, but hey, I don't hear you complaining.

I told you I was going to start with the end of chapter 11 and here is that passage and the beginning of Chapter 12: "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 'For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?' 'Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?' For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (11:33-12:2)

If you have been in church any time at all, you have heard a sermon on Romans 12:1-2, how we are supposed to give our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord. But I would not be surprised if very few of you have noted the overall context of the passage. The message here is very simple. When we see God for who He is, we will have no choice and little desire to do anything else but to pour out our lives before Him. 

But it is a never-ending process. I have heard it preached before that the transformation described in 12:2 is a one time thing: that "dedicating your life to the Lord" is a decision that comes one time in a person's life and is a decision every Christian has to make. When you hear them give testimonies, they will treat the day of their "dedication" on an equal plane with their salvation. Unfortunately this was a popular teaching among many of the people at Maranatha when I was there. If only the Christian life was that easy. My problem is I fully and with all my heart put myself on the altar, but then the next day or the next week I am up and doing my own thing again. Spiritual maturity and growth is a slow process. You do not take one giant leap and hit a spiritual plateau of near perfection. Or if you do, I must be really missing the boat.

Next Paul mentions spiritual gifts: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (12:4-8)

Now this is a controversial subject. When we get to the other lists of gifts in I Corinthians and Ephesians, it is pretty clear that those were miraculous gifts given exclusively to the church for the age of the Apostles, before the New Testament was completed. We will cover that in more detail when we get there. However in this passage, you can make a case that these are for the church for all time. But I don't buy it. Maybe it's because I don't see any of these gifts really at work in my life, and I will freely admit that could be my own sin and lack of vision. But until the Lord or someone else shows me the truth more plainly, I have to say that these gifts either refer to the natural talents or predispositions that God gives, or they are a reference to a supernatural gift given to the first century church specifically.

The main problem I have is that I have yet to hear a biblical approach to these gifts. Oh, you can find a lot of teachers hawking Reader's Digest personality quizzes that say, hey, if you feel sorry for dogs and cats, you must have the gift of mercy. But where is that in the Bible? The one thing I think is clear that we can get out of this passage is that we should use our abilities as best we can for the Lord, and that is about as far as I will go with that.

This last section just has some very simple things that we all can do to please the Lord and serve Him: "Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (12:9-21, ESV)

If everybody lived by these simple principles, the world would be a wonderful place. This is the way the church is supposed to be. They may be simple to read, but they go against the grain of our sinful natures, don't they? It takes work and effort to outdo one another in showing honor and to give to our enemies. That takes a work of God in our hearts, because we can't do it in and of ourselves.

The one thing I know I need to work on is the part about hospitality. That was an important thing in the first century, and, truth be known, it is important all the time. I am one of the world's worst at this, but believe me I know how much closer a hospitable church is than an inhospitable one. The church I went to in Houston was wonderful in this area. It seemed like just about every week, or at least every other week, somebody in the church either invited me to their home or invited me out to dinner. And I will say that was the closest church I have ever been a part of. It is hard to stay mad at someone when you are looking across the table at them and enjoying a good meal with them.

Now I know it's kind of hard for a single man to do this, but probably if I did more of it I wouldn't be in this situation.  Anyway, anyone can take someone out for a meal or ice cream or something. And it does so much good. This is definitely more for me than anyone else. I guess it's something I have been thinking about.

Friday, July 17, 2015

TOMS: Romans 11

For an introduction to this series, click here.

July 14, 2007

Well here we are at the conclusion of Paul's statements about the past, present and the future of Israel. Paul spends much of this epistle writing about the Jewish people. Perhaps there was some anti-Semitism among the believers at Rome, or maybe there was some confusion about their role in the church and in God's overall plan.

Paul makes it clear here in the beginning of this chapter that God's purposes are at work: "I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 'Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.' But what is God's reply to him? 'I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.' So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, 'God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.'" (11:1-8)

I think in context those who are "elect" in this passage are those Jews who believe in the Lord Jesus, at least those about whom Paul was writing in the first century. The same thing applies today. Of course Jews today, as a general rule, have become even more hardened to the Gospel than those of the first century. But there still are a good number who do believe in Jesus. And it means a lot more to them than it does to most of us. I know I didn't have to give up anything to be a Christian. But they often have to give up their family and are viewed by the wider Jewish community as second-class citizens.

Have you ever thought about the number that God told Elijah, that there were 7,000 people in Israel who had not worshiped Baal? That's an astonishingly small number, considering there were no doubt millions in Israel. But God has never worked with an overwhelming majority. He likes to use a small number committed to His purpose to fulfill His plan.

Next, Paul explains that Gentile Christians are "grafted" into the tree of faith: "But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, 'Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.' That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree." (11:17-24)

This is a tough passage to get a grasp on, but basically, the Jews who did not believe, but were part of the tree of faith because of their physical relationship with Abraham, are the ones being cut off here. That seems fairly obvious, but it is an important premise. Now Gentiles are joining the church and becoming part of that tree. But God is certainly not going to spare those who make a false profession or join the church just because it seemed like the thing to do at the time. He is going to deal with them just as He dealt with the unbelieving Jews, and maybe even more harshly. This is the same principle as is taught in the parable of the tares and several other of Jesus' parables. God tolerates unbelievers in the visible church, but He will judge them in the end. 

Finally Paul summarizes all of this with a final statement of future blessing for Israel: "Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, 'The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob'; 'and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.' As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all." (11:25-32, ESV)

I approach Scripture from a dispensational perspective, and so I think this passage is talking about a yet-to-be-fulfilled time when God will once again deal with Israel as His chosen people. There are good brothers who disagree, and say that Paul is continuing his discussion of Jews who believe in Jesus. I would point out to them that the passages Paul quotes have everything to do with Messiah (Jesus, of course) establishing His kingdom. But I'm not going to debate much beyond that. We can't get caught in the trap of allowing our interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy to drive a wedge between brothers in the Lord.

The very last section of the chapter I am going to deal with next time, since I think verse 32 is a more natural break in Paul's thought, and the last four verses would have been more appropriately included as the first four of chapter 12. Of course you understand the chapter and verse divisions were added later for the benefit of reference. I am glad they are there, but sometimes they made some goofy choices. That's why I always take out the verse divisions when I quote the scripture. If you ignore the verse divisions, it helps to see the overall context.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

TOMS: Romans 10

For an introduction to this series, click here.

July 13, 2007

Paul continues his discussion of Israel, stating that they have tried to develop their own righteousness based on the law instead of developing their faith in God. He says they have missed the truth that was always there in their own Old Testament scriptures: that man can never become righteous by the works of the law, but only by faith: "But what does it say? 'The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart' (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, 'Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'" (10:8-13)

Notice all the Old Testament quotes in that passage. It is important to remember that the Old Testament was the only written scriptures the church had, other than the epistles which were coming out and being passed around from church to church. So Paul and Peter and all the great preachers of the early church had to use the Old Testament to prove that Christ was the Messiah.

The last section has to do with the lack of faith among the Jews: "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for 'Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.' But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, 'I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.' Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, 'I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.' But of Israel he says, 'All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.'" (10:17-21, ESV)

Even the Old Testament foresaw a day in which Jews and Gentiles would be treated equally, and this is something the Jews had not at that time and still have not come to grips with. Paul is mostly writing about the Jews of his day. Some of the specific statements may or may not be true today, but the general principle still applies. Paul says earlier in Romans that the Jews were blessed, because of their long history as God's people. But they were stuck in their thinking, and could not conceive of God expanding His reach, even though their own scriptures, especially in the prophets, foresee such a time. And therefore God passed them by. But He is not through with them yet. That is the point of Chapter 11.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

TOMS: Romans 8

For an introduction to this series, click here.

July 11, 2007

This chapter is about the gift of the Holy Spirit - the indwelling Spirit, not the fraudulent gifts promoted by some churches - but that is another topic for another time.

Paul begins this chapter talking about the freedom we have in Christ and the difference between being subject to the Spirit and being subject to the flesh: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." (8:1-8)

This is an incredible passage. We who are born sinners and slaves to the flesh have an opportunity to experience something much greater: abundant life in Christ. But this opportunity did not come cheaply: it required Christ to die and take our place. These eight verses are a nice summary of the doctrines of substitutionary atonement and Christian liberty. We all say that Christian liberty does not mean that we are free to do whatever we want, and of course at a certain level that is true. But it is obvious from this passage that being free from the old law only means that we are now bound to the law of the Spirit. And the indwelling of the Spirit gives us the right desires, so therefore in a way we are free to do what we want. St. Augustine is reported to have said, "Love God and do what you please." I'm sure there is more to what he said than that, but even this little statement has a lot of truth in it - more truth than some who are Christians are willing to admit.

Paul then describes another benefit of the gift of the Spirit: "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." (8:14-17) As believers we are sons and heirs of God. We don't deserve it, but it is a gift from God.

Another benefit of the Spirit is that He is at work in our lives: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." (8:26-30) 

Everybody likes to quote verse 28, but it is interesting that that verse is connected to the verse about the Spirit helping us with our prayers. He is at work in ways we don't really understand in our lives. He helps us when we pray, He intercedes with the Father for us, and that is why all things are working together for good. 

And of course the last two verses are a solid presentation of the doctrine of election. You may remember from your math classes that if A=B, and B=C, then A=C. Paul is using simple logic here, but we have to follow it carefully. First of all, the ones whom God "foreknew" are the same ones who "are called according to his purpose," that is, all believers. All these are predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. That includes both sanctification in this life and future glorification in heaven. All those predestined are called, that is called to salvation. All those who are called are justified, and all those who are justified are glorified. God chose and called all believers for the whole ball of wax: justification, sanctification and glorification. I don't pretend to understand it all, and I’m not sure any of us completely understand it, but there it is in black and white. Just because some people go off the deep end concerning election doesn't mean the general concept is not taught in Scripture. It definitely is. 

Because of this call, and because of the indwelling Spirit, God's love for us is unchanging: "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died --more than that, who was raised-- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (8:31-39, ESV) 

This is an incredible passage, and it gives us incredible confidence. Those who think they can lose their salvation have never sat down and really read Romans 8. If you understand the doctrine of election, then certainly you understand that God's sovereign call for salvation is not based on anything desirable in us, it is only based on His love. And His love is eternal, not subject to change based on what we do. Remember what Paul said about Abraham in Romans 4. Because Abraham was credited with Christ's righteousness, in God's eyes his faith never wavered, even though Abraham certainly did fail from a human perspective.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

TOMS: Romans 7

For an introduction to this series, click here.

July 10, 2007

Well this is a controversial chapter, at least the last part. Hopefully I can shed some light on it for you.

Paul continues his discussion of how we are free from the Jewish law: "Or do you not know, brothers - for I am speaking to those who know the law - that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit." (7:1-6)

I have heard preachers take the passage about women and their relationship to their husbands and say that a woman who is divorced should never remarry. If you read this in context, that is clearly not the point of the passage. Paul is using the marriage relationship as an example that we are no longer obligated to the Law of Moses and are entered into a new relationship with Christ.

Paul begins the argument in the passage above that the Law brought about sin. He expands on that in the next section: "What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me." (7:7-10)

This is what Paul means in Galatians when he says the Law is a schoolmaster. It teaches us that we are sinful people. That's why I like the Way of the Master series, if you have ever seen that. I can't say I agree with everything they do - we could have made it without those ubiquitous million dollar bills. I saw one on the sidewalk in Fayette last week; I picked it up and threw it away - but they emphasize the fact that we need to confront people with their sin. If you've never read any of their material, it's worth a look.

Now the rest of this chapter is very controversial. I guess I will just copy and paste it, and then discuss it: "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin." (7:14-25, ESV)

This is a tough passage to interpret. There are many who say this describes a believer's struggle with sin as a Christian. There are others who say Paul is describing his attempts as an unbelieving Pharisee to obey the Law of Moses. There is a third theory that says this describes Paul as an immature believer who struggled with sin in his flesh. I have read or heard each of these arguments, and there is an element of truth in all of them. 

I take the position that Paul is talking about his current struggle with sin. We need to embrace what Paul tells us in the previous chapter about not being under the power of sin. When we recognize that we have Christ's righteousness, as Paul tells us in Chapter 4, it gives us confidence to overcome sin. Those are truths that we should live in and strive to make real in our lives.

But we don't always feel that way, do we? We need to remind ourselves about our standing in Christ all the time, but we are still trapped in this flesh and in this world. When I was a kid I can remember thinking that by the time I got old - say about 30 (my 30th birthday is coming up later this month) - that I would be so mature or so spiritual or so boring that sin and temptation would not be a problem anymore. How wrong that was!

Monday, July 13, 2015

TOMS: Romans 6

For an introduction to this series, click here.

July 9, 2007

The deeper we go into Romans, of course, the better it gets. Paul just got through saying that God's grace is more powerful than the power of sin, and actually overcomes it. And so now Paul answers the objection that if God's grace abounds where sin is, you are saying that we should sin to get more of God's grace. Paul could not be more vehement in his rebuttal of that idea: "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." (6:6-11) 

I was going to comment on this, but I think the next passage says it lots better than I ever could: "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace." (6:12-14)

Sin has a destructive power that I don't think we understand, or at least I am sure that I don't. Of course we all know at some level that sin destroys our lives and of course brings about physical death for everyone. But just a little bit of sin in a person's life is enough to bring about a small kind of death, both spiritually and physically. Now of course the Lord is able to forgive and restore, but it is better not to be entangled. And Paul says here that we are not to allow ourselves to become enslaved by sin since we have been set free by the grace of God.

But we have to serve somebody. And if we don't serve sin, who or what do we serve? Paul gives us that answer too: "But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification." (6:17-19)

I really like what Paul has to say here about lawlessness leading to more lawlessness. That's the way sin works, and that is also the way God works. When we yield ourselves to Him, He brings about good fruit in our lives, and that good fruit also compounds itself in our lives. God doesn't shortchange us. When we do His will, He rewards us. We may not see the rewards in this life but usually we understand that He is bringing about good fruit in our life, even if we don't see it all right now.

This chapter finishes up (I hope you realize the chapter and verse divisions were added later for reference's sake) with Paul telling us exactly what I was trying to say: "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (6:22-23, ESV)

We use that last verse in evangelism to try to pound home the idea that sin leads to death. But the emphasis in context is on the gift of God, the positive that the Lord brings about in our lives. I'm not saying that we should not use this verse in evangelism, but a lot of people have never heard that verse outside of a witnessing context. It's amazing the truth you can learn from very familiar scripture if you just read through the Bible and look at how a verse weaves in with the whole message of the book. That is very important in the epistles, which were meant to be read aloud from beginning to end all at once by the receiving church. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

TOMS: Romans 5

For an introduction to this series, click here.

July 6, 2007

Paul continues to explain what it means to be justified by faith. First of all it means peace with God, and then it means that we are wonderfully blessed to be a part of God's plan: "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person - though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die - but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life." (5:6-10) 

This is one of my favorite passages in all the Bible. God's mercy is overwhelming. He could have left us alone and given us all what we deserve: eternal punishment separated from Him. But God chose to bridge that gap between Him and us, His enemies, by sending Jesus to die in our place. What a humbling thing that is. I don't deserve God's love or even His consideration, but yet He paid for my redemption by the death of His own Son. That is why rejection of this amazing gift deserves the ultimate punishment. If God was an uncaring being somewhere, and we humans were all in the same predicament, then there would be no shame in rejecting Him. But He came down to us and became one of us so He could take the punishment that we deserve. To reject that love is an unspeakable evil, worthy of judgment.

Next Paul compares Adam, the first man, to Christ: "But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ." (5:15-17)

Adam's sin brought spiritual and physical death on the whole human race. But because of Christ's sacrifice God's grace is able to overcome that death sentence. 

In fact, God is able to overcome a multitude of sins: "Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (5:20-21, ESV)

God's grace is truly amazing. Even before Christ came, He never left mankind without a plan for redemption. He is able to break the heart of stone and give us a new heart.

Friday, July 10, 2015

TOMS: Romans 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

July 5, 2007

There are two significant Old Testament passages that are quoted in the New Testament epistles with varying effect. Both of them are found in Romans. The first is "The just shall live by faith," which is quoted at least four times in the New Testament, and "Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness," which we find here in this chapter and also in the book of James.

Paul began late in chapter 3 to make the transition from God's righteousness to man's sinfulness and utter hopelessness without God. Here the transition is complete. Read this profound statement about man's need of a Savior: "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.' Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness," (4:2-5)

There are so many incredible passages here I almost feel like comments are unnecessary. But here I go again anyway.

Next Paul destroys those who said that it was necessary for new Christians to live like Jews. The ultimate symbol of Judaism is of course circumcision: "Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised." (4:9-11) 

Paul cannot be more clear here. Abraham was converted and pronounced righteous by the Lord in Genesis before God gave him the sign of circumcision, not at the same time, and not after. Therefore Paul says the fact that even Abraham was "saved," to use a New Testament term, before he received circumcision means that no Gentile has to be circumcised in order to be saved.

The rest of the chapter tells how Abraham was an example of how we should be faithful. Paul makes a statement here that actually seems to be untrue: "He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised." (4:19-21)

Now I don't know about you, but when I read Genesis, I see Abraham as "weakening" and "wavering" all over the place in his faith. First of all he agreed to have a son with Hagar, Sarah's servant. Then when God told him he would have a son with Sarah, he laughed in God's face. 

But the fact remains that he already had the righteousness of God, as Paul goes on to say: 
"But the words 'it was counted to him' were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification." (4:23-25, ESV)

This statement is a comfort to me. My faith is not very strong, and I usually have a lot of problems. The fact that God acknowledges the sincere faith of our hearts and forgives us when our faith is not what it should be is very reassuring. From a human perspective, Abraham was not a perfect example, but God saw his heart that he really did trust God.